Please enjoy this previously published column from 2004 while I am away from the office.
While the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees us all the opportunity to speak in tongues at the Rocky Creek Church of the New Revival and Second Coming if we so choose, it does not give any of us the right to own a goat named Sparky.
Im sorry, thats just the way it is.
A survey by the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum found that people are all mixed up about the First Amendment, which gives us freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, the right to assemble and the right to petition for redress of grievances.
A telephone survey of 1,000 people found that more respondents knew Bart as a character on The Simpsons (61 percent), Simon as a judge on American Idol (49 percent) and Federal Express as the one to call when it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight (61 percent) than were aware that freedom of the press is included in the First Amendment (11 percent).
And many believe the First Amendment is much more expansive than it really is. Twenty-one percent said it guarantees each of us the right to own and raise pets (like a goat named Sparky), while 17 percent said the First Amendment affords us the right to drive a car.
We all need a civics lesson, but not one of those boring civics lessons where we lose interest and stare out the window at the girls track team and flunk the final and fail to get into a really good college and end up working at a newspaper and writing about goats, but an exciting civics lesson that applies the First Amendment to a real-life situation we can all understand.
Here we go. Lets say your pet goat Sparky sneaks next door and tears the trailer hitch off your cousin Eugenes Pontiac. Theres already bad blood between the two of you due to a property line dispute and Eugene, being the hothead that he is, says, Ill tell you what Im going to run for mayor and when I win Im going to pass me an ordinance outlawing goats.
Ill tell everybody I know not to vote for a goat-hating hothead! you exclaim. (Freedom of speech)
Frankly, though, youre not worried about Eugene becoming mayor since hes about as popular around town as a Danish cartoonist at an Islamic picnic. (Freedom of religion)
Then, Eugenes opponent is spotted in the background of a Kid Rock sex tape and withdraws from the race, his political career and marriage both in shambles.
GOAT-HATING HOTHEAD WINS MAYORS RACE reads the newspaper headline. (Freedom of the press)
Fearing the town will soon fall into anarchy due to Eugenes utter lack of leadership skills and functional illiteracy, you quickly tack these notices to telephone poles across the community: If you would like to help me get Eugene thrown out of office, meet me at the fellowship hall of the Rocky Creek Church of the New Revival and Second Coming on Tuesday at 8 p.m. (Freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion)
That night, you address the crowd.
If yall thats handling the snakes back there will give me your attention for a minute. Now, we all know a goat-hating hothead like Eugene shouldnt be the mayor. Lets circulate this petition that calls for his immediate removal from office due to his ineptness and goat bias. (Freedom of speech, freedom to petition for redress of grievances)
PETITION SUCCESSFUL GOAT-HATING HOTHEAD OUSTED, reads the newspaper headline. (Freedom of press)
So, heres what weve learned today: The First Amendment is good. It has nothing to do with owning and raising pets. And no one should ever elect a goat-hating hothead mayor.
Scott Hollifield is editor of The McDowell News in Marion, NC. Contact him at email@example.com.
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